CSU, Stanislaus: Let Sarah Palin Speak (Somewhere Else)!

What do people associated with a university have to learn from Sarah Palin? Does Palin even believe in public higher education?
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Thanks to the resourceful dumpster diving of two CSU, Stanislaus students, Alicia Lewis and Ashli Briggs, the public was finally able to get a glimpse behind the curtain of Sarah Palin Land. Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown has promised a thorough investigation. These two young people should be commended for their civic mindedness and citizenship.

Apparently, the CSU, Stanislaus administration and its University Foundation had a secrecy agreement with the group representing Sarah Palin, the Washington Speakers Bureau, for her upcoming speech at the college's 50th anniversary commemoration. Her contract with CSU, Stanislaus stipulates that it be shielded from public scrutiny even though she is known to charge upwards of $100,000 just to show up.

It turns out that since the University Foundation is part of a public university it cannot shield itself from the inquiries of members of the California State Legislature. On March 31st Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) requested Palin's contract under the Public Records Act, and about a week later the CSU, Stanislaus administration claimed that the Palin contract was nowhere to be found. On April 7th, Senator Yee called for an investigation. Two days later Ms. Lewis and Ms. Briggs made their grisly discovery in the administration building's dumpster.

What the two women found were intact pages of Palin's speaking contract with the CSU, Stanislaus University Foundation. They also found large garbage bags full of shredded documents.

The few pages of the contract the students were able to piece together are revealing. If you ever needed evidence of whether or not Sarah Palin is a "rock star," this is it. Palin apparently has as many riders in her contract as Aerosmith. They include "round-trip, first-class commercial air travel for two between Anchorage, Alaska, and event city," (not an unreasonable request). But it also stipulates that if first-class accommodations cannot be arranged "a Lear 60 or larger" will suffice.

There are some damning tidbits on the few surviving pages of the nine-page, mostly shredded, document. The contract stipulates that all arrangements must be secret (which sparked Senator Yee's interest) and a "one-bedroom suite and two single rooms in a deluxe hotel" must be provided. In addition, it strictly limits all photographs and audio and visual recordings of the event and only allows for one highly orchestrated photo-op. It even includes a diagram dictating how the furniture is to be arranged for the photo session. There's also a request for two bottles of water and bendable straws. What, no bowl of yellow M&M's?

The incident raises some serious questions: Did the CSU, Stanislaus administration lie to a member of the State Senate when it claimed it didn't have Palin's contract? And if so, is this the kind behavior we should expect from the stewards of public taxpayer funds? Senator Yee has proposed a prudent remedy in the form of Senate Bill 330, which would require University Foundations to practice the same level of transparency as do the universities themselves.

Sometimes it takes college students going through dumpsters to shed a little light on the kinds of problems that exist at our public universities. In recent years administrators' salaries have grown more than any other employees, often earning them far more than the governor and state legislators. Many of them seem to have lost sight of the public mission of the California State University system. It's not to aggrandize a tiny overpaid minority but to educate the state's workforce so that California can continue to be a source of innovation and world leadership.

What do people associated with a university have to learn from Sarah Palin? Does Palin even believe in public higher education? For $100,000 she'll deliver her stump speech that we've all heard about a million times about how everything was just great in this country under her hero George W. Bush before the "radical" President Barack Obama was elected. The CSU, Stanislaus University Foundation could get Jonah Goldberg or Michelle Malkin to come to the school and say the exact same thing for a fraction of the price.

There is now only one option available if the CSU, Stanislaus administration wants to save face and that's to let Palin speak - somewhere else. The University Foundation cannot afford even the appearance of impropriety. Given its public role, it should be held to a higher standard than the average private corporation. If some private group wants to hire her, so be it. But public institutions have an obligation to serve the public, and that means the public's right to know. The Palin incident illustrates everything that's wrong with the business-oriented way the CSU system has been managed in recent years. It's somehow fitting that the administrators' "accountability moment" might come via two students rummaging through a garbage dumpster.

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